How many times do you need to ask your kids to put their toys away before they actually do it? Once? Twice? 100 times?
Or perhaps the real question is how red in the face and vocally high-pitched do you need to become before you feel they actually listen? As a mother of three myself, I know how difficult it can be to get your kids on board with cleaning up their personal belongings; however, I’ve also learned that there are ways to make this task much less mentally draining. The process of having your children tidy up doesn’t have to be hard; it just needs to be encouraged with supportive, focused guidance rather than unclear demands.
You and I know quite well that when we demand for our kids’ bedrooms and play spaces to be cleaned up with phrases like, “Go clean your room!” or, “Put your things away!”, it almost never gets done without a lot of extra poking, prodding, and reminding. And what does this lead to? Avoidance and tantrums on the kids’ ends and emotional dysregulation on ours.
I want you to know that if you do struggle with getting your little ones to join in on cleaning times without them (or yourself!) reaching the point of a major meltdown, that there is hope. The strategies shared in this post have worked for me, and I'm certain that if you start implementing them in your home, you’ll begin to see a major shift in how your children are able to get the job completed in a much happier, whistle-while-you-work kind of way!
Strategy #1: Be Present
In order to get your kids on board with straightening up, I would encourage you to remain present in the space with them. This is especially important for children who are younger or who are neurodivergent and who, in consequence, require extra assistance to complete more focus-driven tasks. Instead of calling "Go clean your room!" to your kids from downstairs, schedule a time to go with them into the space and stay there. Yes, you read that correctly... you’re going to have stay there the whole time.
This is because your presence serves as a version of body doubling that works really well with young children. When you are able to be physically present in the target space with your children, it will give them the accountability required to remain focused on the job at hand.
Strategy #2: Use “I” Messages
A major shift in emotional energy occurs when we move from demanding something to identifying the reason why something needs to be done. Instead of telling your kids “Go clean your room!” (are you getting sick of that phrase yet?), try using an “I” message that expresses your feelings and needs instead. For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed by the clutter on the floor and I need your help to put it away.” Can you hear the difference this makes? It takes all that negatively energized emotion out of the situation and encourages feelings of love and support that your child is more likely to respond to do.
Strategy #3: Use Incentive Language, Not Bribe Language.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there is a very fine line between a bribe and an incentive. In fact, sometimes the line is so blurry that I have a hard time distinguishing which is which! However, by letting your children know that WHEN their toys are put away, then they can (blank) instead of IF their toys get put away, then they can (blank), it makes the task feel more of a "responsibility goal" to work towards rather than a parent pay-off.
Strategy #4: Provide Choices While Cleaning Up
When your kids' play spaces are covered in toys, the overwhelm of it all makes the "go clean" prompt nearly impossible to comprehend. By providing choices as to what to clean up first--such as bean bags or stuffed animals--your children will be able to better focus on the task at hand and get through it with ease. Instead of looking at straightening up the whole room as the goal, your kids will be able to adopt a "small-wins" mindset through quick task-completion and praise.
Strategy #5: Make It Fun!
If it is something you feel your children can handle in the moment, you can turn the tidying job into a music playlist challenge. Ask your kids how many songs they think it will take to get all of the toys put away, and then work together to see if you can beat the identified number of songs.
Another way to incorporate a fun challenge is to time yourself while cleaning up and record the final number in the "Notes" section of your phone. Then when you’re cleaning up as a family again in the future, you can go back to your list and make it a goal to beat the time from before.
Now, this strategy may be too overwhelming for some children to handle, but you know your little ones best… Make the decision that works best for you and for them!
By trying the strategies outlined in this post, I can pretty much guarantee that you will be able to observe major changes in your kids' abilities to clean up after themselves with way less stress, overwhelm, and frustration. Providing supportive guidance rather than demanding change switches the whole situation to one fueled by negative energy to one that is completed with love. Doesn’t that sound nice?
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